Diego Maradona, acclaimed by some as the greatest footballer of all time, made his debut in Europe on the less than hallowed turf of SV Meppen’s Hindenburg Stadium. The date was 3rd August 1982 and the team from the small provincial town in northern Germany, not far from the Dutch border, were hosting a pre-season friendly against Barcelona to celebrate their 70th birthday.
For a team in the non-league pyramid, Meppen had form for attracting big-hitting opposition. Their 60th birthday had seen a visit from the reigning German champions Borussia Mönchengladbach, while a year later Ajax had made the short trip from Amsterdam and fielded a team including Johan Cruyff and John Neeskens.
In an effort to attract a team of that ilk, the club owners pulled in every favour they could. They were put in touch with Barcelona, then managed by the German Udo Lattek who was looking for a game while his team were on a pre-season training camp in Holland. Aware that Meppen had provided a decent test to their previous international opponents, he was happy to travel to Germany for the game.
No sooner had the fixture been announced, Barcelona signed Maradona from Boca Juniors. The club could not believe their luck ... what had promised to be a big occasion, was now an event of major significance in European football. Ticket sales, which had already been going briskly, went crazy and had to be stopped within a couple of days. Officially the stadium, today known as the Hänsch Arena, could hold 13,000. However 18,500 are believed to have attended the match. It is probably one of those games where every resident of Meppen over the age of 40 will claim to have been there that night.
In the end it was a low key appearance by the Argentinian superstar, as he scored a penalty, inevitably sending the keeper the wrong way, before being substituted at half-time. Nevertheless it provided the opportunity for a little bit of football history to take place in a quiet corner of north-west Germany.